Post-War to Post-Modern

I have added notes or responses to my tutor feedback for this assignment at the end of these notes.

This final chapter of World History of Art has been for me the most fascinating due to my misconceptions and lack of knowledge of art of the post-war period and hence I again leave my notes a  longer than specified in my assignment details particularly in relation to Styles and Movements – I have come back to these notes to decide whether to try to summarise further in line with requirements but I want to be able to use these notes in the future and understand the principle points and ideas so have decided not to change them.  I have found this period complex but the art now makes sense I am beginning to understand the ideas and concepts behind it.


1945 – WW2 ends. New York over takes Paris as Western focal point for art – end of WW2 ended European imperialism and rule overseas including losses of economic/political powers & consequentially ended cultural predominance in the West (p. 832 WHA). Artists/intellectuals emigrated to USA during 1930’s – political/racial refugees from Germany including Albert Einstein, Igor Stravinksky, Hans Hofman, Gropius & many more – 1940 with fall of France artists/sculptors fled Paris including Mondrian, Dali, Max Ernst… Purist-Abstract & Surrealist transferred to New York from European. Post-war austerity replaced by ‘consumer-society affluence and prosperity’ (p. 841 WHA) + years of optimism of the Kennedy lead years. Art no longer needed a gallery – art in 1970’s/late 1960’s became subject to same economic vagarities as any other consumer object but now lacked ‘a unique object to sell’ (p. 855 WHA).  Computers – fledgling technology in 1970’s


Status of many depended on economic status of countries – many fled from Nazi Germany and became founders/members of new artistic movements.  Photography – new opportunities including commercial work for magazines/newspapers but with some who turned their backs on fashion magazines to document life with the expertise of experience giving insight. New techniques such as video or computers started to change how artists worked – photography also continued to be source of images & recognised as an artistic style of its own separating from the conventional art world.


Hans Hofmann – experimented with ‘drip’ techniques & mixed media; use of colossal sized canvases by Jackson Pollock & Clyfford Still. Matisse – book (called ‘Jazz’) filled with cut/gouache coloured papers/arranged by him. Helen Frankenthaler – stained unsized canvas by pouring pigment. Rauschenberg – developed/adapted frottage technique – transfer of pictures from newspaper/magazine using silk-screen stencilling by inking/screening directly onto the canvas in grid-like patterns with addition of drips or swirls of paint. Andy Warhol – first to use silk-screen technique for painting.  Video commercially available – 1960’s.


Abstract style – Arthur Garfield Dove … used elemental aspects of nature and simplified to ‘colour and force lines and substances’ (p. 833, WHA); Georgia O’Keefe – creation of forms that can be interpreted abstractly or representation . Abstract Expressionism –Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning,  Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline  – no specific common stylistic traits – colossal style of works – style point was to put paint on canvas in an active manner; Ashley Gorky – combination of abstraction/surrealism; Pollock – actively made marks on canvas/personal participation with whole body; de Kooning – raw colours, heavy in texture, aggressive but with element of representation particularly in his use of the human figure as a main theme – Excavation, 1950; Kline – black/white/red abstract works; Second group of Abstract Expressionists – Colour-field painters including Rothko, Still and Newman – move away from traditional Western culture; Still – use of ‘planar formations’, thick layers of colours which do not overlap but also not separate – no feeling of depth/space but density; Rothko – sombre state of mind increasingly shown in works – texture of the canvas allowed to remain as opposed to Pollock who used the texture of the paint; Barnett-Newman – focus on subject-matter – impression is of colour/space – reduces pictorial elements to most basic (p. 839 WHA) – sculpture style … simplistic and conceptual with timeless quality; David Smith – sculptor – worked as if painting from the front with gravity being defied – open/linear/pictorial/3-dimensional – Cubi XVIII & Cubi XVII. Matisse – abstraction using collaged coloured papers; Alberto Giacometti – bronzed figures seen from the front – elongated style figures in tune with Existentialism philosophy – aim to capture the essence of the personality rather than the likeness. Post-Painterly Abstraction/Colour Field Painting – elegant, restrained, cool – prime artists Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland & Morris Louis; Louis – work included juxtaposed hues combined with ‘projection and recession’ (p. 842 WHA) – paint soaked into the canvas. Optical Art – described as ‘geometrical abstraction’ (p. 843 WHA) – the ‘exploitation of the physiology of seeing’ (p. 843 WHA). Neo-Dada – only vague connection to Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg – objects/imagery recognised with Johns painting Three Flags in encaustic – background as important as foreground – familiar objects but in unfamiliar depiction/abstraction; Robert Rauschenberg – ‘Bed’ – takes object & leans against a wall questioning the meaning of art again – combines paintings with objects or photographs or collage elements so ‘painting’ becomes a three-dimensional ‘sculpture/painting’. Pop Art – Roy Lichtenstein – Big Painting No. 6  prime example – described in WHA as ‘gestural manipulation of paint as a means of unfettered, spontaneous self-expression’ (p. 845) – definition of Pop art … “’making impersonality a style’” (p. 845 WHA); ‘Just what is makes today’s homes so different? So appealing?’ – Richard Hamilton – first Pop art – collage of consumer/society based images/packaging/movies & automobile heraldry as well as male/female pin-up. American Pop Art – differs slightly to European – more ambivalent/complex  – Claes Oldenberg … Giant Hamburger – sailcloth material inflated to 2 metres across with foam stuffing – invites the viewer to look at something not previously considered as art; Andy Warhol – created Pop lifestyle – work done by assistants in a studio – repetitive images with commonplace objects/famous men/women – much work dealt with death or ‘nihilism of the contemporary media-saturated world’ (p. 847 WHA). Nouveau Realisme – French Pop Art – named by critic Pierre Restany in attempt to regain Paris as central position in contemporary art world – Yves Klein’s art sought ‘weightless existence in a spiritual void’ (p. 847 WHA) – style of exhibitions were that of space with indications of Klein blue that dominates his paintings/sculptures; Arman – rubbish for his installations/sculptures – result of consumerism/mass production & commodities of Pop ; Germany – artists – Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Konrad Lueg, Wof Vostel – term often used for Pop Art was Capital Realism – Name had critical force due to erection of Berlin Wall 1961. Photography – stylistic variations capturing the mood/life whether palatable or harsh reality – Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand – photographed public events, people, urban scenes with detachment  or different view-points – latter example was work of Stephen Shore; Alberto Korda captured Che Guevara, 1960 – Image is the most famous of all visual images of the time. Minimal Art/Minimalism – American style – Frank Stella – literally taking art back to the bare minimum – linear with no self-expression or gestures – Donald Judd – minimalist sculpture with concept that if an artist stated something was art then it was art – rectangular forms or vertical units, identical, arranged on walls vertically or horizontally – Fibonacci or other mathematical sequence creating variation – use of different materials – other artists of similar style of bare surfaces/mechanical precision included Robert Morris or Carl Andre – Andre’s work often site specific with spectator’s use of the space directly in mind; John McCracken – use of colour to build his forms – pigmented resin on top of fibreglass-resined wood. Conceptual Art/Conceptualism – ‘idea over individual making’ (p. 853 WHA) – all planning/decisions made before which in turn means the actual working of the art is perfunctory – if concept was clear then actual artist could be irrelevant – demonstrated in ‘One and Three Chairs’ by Joseph Kosuth – art no longer needed to be displayed in a gallery – photography becomes intrinsic part of the style & used to explore visually or for imagination demonstrated by Vito Acconci, Edward Ruscha, John Baldessari.  Arte Povera – literally poor/impoverished art – use of cheap/available materials – simplicity in poverty which challenged traditional ideas concerning art – Mario Merz use of Fibonacci sequencing to portray humans with the journeys undertaken – Michaelangelo Pistoletto changed his work to 3-dimensional from 2 – ‘Orchestra of Rags’ created using rags, singing kettles and glass – challenged the considered norms of art. Process Art – described as ‘focus on process and manipulation of material’ (p. 853 WHA) – Barry Le Va, Richard Serra – relating ‘passage of time to experience of art’ (p. 857 WHA) reappears – Splashing by the latter formed by the hurling of molten lead towards the angle of the floor/wall whereby it solidifies and his actions are recorded – Eva Hess … shows her process in her work with sculptural arrangements with use of impermanent materials … used a picture frame for Hang Up to show how what is considered a normal object to an artist plays a role in their self-expression. Body art – Bruce Nauman – used own body for artistic performances such as Self-Portrait as a Fountain with the help of video – debt to Duchamp’s ready-made – style of art almost anarchic against the established art market. Earth & land art – Robert Smithson created Spiral Jetty, Utah – use of landscape to create art and artistic expression…some ideas were transient – Christo Javacheff some completed now dismantled – concepts survive in sketches, notes, instructions or photographs; Roden Crater Project – area taken over to be used as a cosmic viewing site with 4 concrete sewer/drainage tubes in an X-shape – James Turrell & Nancy Holt; Gordon Matt-Clarke – worked on urban projects using city detritus including condemned buildings.  Photo-realism – trompe l’oeil in execution but literally painting to create photo-realistic images – Richard Estes excels. New Image/New Figurative paintings – late 1960’s/USA – David Hockney/Balthazar Klossowski de Rola – European figurative painters; Francis Bacon – incongruous depiction of his theme or subject in Three Studies for a Crucifixion.  New Deal Style – Philip Guston  revived figuration – grotesque depictions of subject; Leon Grubb – human corruptibility – Chicago ‘monster school’ painters – scraped/roughened canvases – giant paintings – life-sized humans in depictions of torment – sensitive handling of paint; Cy Twombly – works that seem incomplete with aspects of memories/calligraphy or musings.  Modernism/Post-Modernism – sculpture had become more like architecture – metal/glass skyscrapers – elegant, simple with no adornments, precise detail …. Austere roots of the International Style – Le Corbusier – Expressionism architecture – Notre Dame du Haut, France – curvaceous, irregular and expressive in meaning – opposing style High Court Building in Chandigarh, India…  geometric, and easily moulded or shaped (plasticity) with monumentality.  International Modernism – one of several historically based styles – Pizza d’Italia – Charles Willard Moore; Michael Graves (b. 1934) – Public Service Building, Portland, Oregon – prime example of International Modernism style. High Tech – concept/approach more than style – use of modern technology to create precision engineered architecture.


South-west Indian art including sand painting + artists such as Albert Pinkham-Ryder & Thomas Hart Benton & Mexican artists such as Jose Clemente Orozco as well as Picasso & Surrealism – influenced Jackson Pollock; Picasso & Gonzalez sculptures directly influenced David Smith. Matisse continued to influence artists of different genres. John Cage – composer – influenced Rauschenberg – working in the ‘gap between art and life’ (p. 844 WHA).  Rauschenberg along with other artists influenced by the home TV set. Brancusi – direct influence on sculptors/artists such as Carl Andre who described his work as ‘laying Brancusi flat’ (p. 852 WHA).  Photographers such as John Baldessari became influential on later developments and students. New Deal style – influenced by Mexicans & American Regionalists


Harold Rosenberg – art critic, writer and philosopher – became unofficial spokesman for Abstract Expressionists. Jean-Paul Satre – Existentialism philosopher – wrote about Giacometti’s sculptures  and that he would come closer than ‘any previous artist “to achieving the impossible when his portraits would affect us with all the force of a corporeal prescence”’ (p. 841 WHA). Clement Greenburg – critic who wrote of what lay ahead for the artists after Abstract Expressionism and the need for a more formal or disciplined art.  Gene Swenson – critic – wrote of British Pop Art describing it as ‘”made by librarians’” (p. 846 WHA). Lucy Lippard – critic – late 1960’s/early 1970’s “’demateralisation’ of the art object”. Germano Celant – Italian critic – named style known as Arte Povera in 1967.


Fleming, J and Honour, H. 1984. A World History of Art. Seventh Edition. London.  Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Tutor feedback and my response

My tutor asked me to consider 3 fundamental questions of art history as they relate to art history:

  1. What motivated artists to develop new artistic styles and practices in the mid-twentieth century?  I feel first and foremost that they reacted first and foremost to World War II in a similar manner to the artists of the post-World War I period. Secondly the fact that New York became the focal point of the art world instead of Europe and also society became very much consumer lead and affluent as the effects of post-war austerity faded.  Art no longer needed a gallery as it could be exhibited and seen anywhere in any building and this prompted new venues in unusual places.  All of these factors gave artists the freedom to develop new styles or practices which evolved from one another or were influenced by new modern societies and the new technologies that were beginning to develop – some embraced the changes whilst some reacted against them and developed their own styles.
  2. How have these historical developments influenced the production of art today? I personally feel that art of any era is influenced by the historical developments of the past and each builds upon one another as it develops its own new stylistic differences.  Art re-invents itself continuously and re-interprets the historical developments for a modern audience or perhaps the individual artist loves a particular era such as that of the Renaissance or Baroque and the artist is influenced by the historical developments of that era.  There is no question as I continue to study textiles I will be influenced by the historical developments both of the art world itself and by that I mean the painters, the sculptors and the architects but also of the history of textiles and the vast majority of artists of any genres are also influenced in a similar manner by an artist or artistic genre of the past.  I also have to take into consideration the historical developments in technique and also materials as these continue to evolve and influence the next level of both – the developments in perspective may be taken a step further or perspective used in a different way such as artists like Rob Gonsalves uses it, as an example. There are constant developments in materials as the quality of art media constantly improves and some of the pigments are replaced by modern alternatives or some are purely improved perhaps for light-fastness or due to the original pigment no longer being ecologically acceptable or even available but the colours used historically are still required and continue to influence.  There is no question that the great paintings and even frescoes of the past and also the works of the more eras influence artists not just due to what is painted but also due to the influences that may have have originally influenced the actual artist  so for example Japanese influences on Impressionism which in turn the modern artist may research and incorporate into their own work.  
  3. How does contemporary art build upon, and depart from, its historical precedents? In brief contemporary art I am finding is building upon the lessons of the twentieth century and departing from historical precedents because there is more freedom to create and express the art – there is no singular Salon or place that an artist must exhibit to become incredibly well known although there are still very prestigious venues and exhibitions as well as awards.  Social media is enabling this departure from historical precedents in ways that could not have been imagined even when I was a child but contemporary art must look back to those precedents to be able to move forward – to move forward into the future lessons of the past cannot be forgotten.
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